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Monday, August 1, 2011

Are You Living with TMJ?

Jaw pain. Earaches. Headaches. What do these problems have in common? They could be the result of rockin' out too hard. Or playing flag football with a little too much zeal. But since we're talking teeth here, you should know that these are all symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ or TMD.
TMJ is caused by habitual teeth grinding or jaw clenching. Adults do it. Even kids do it. Which means that TMJ disorder is one of those equal-opportunity conditions that affect people of all ages. True, the symptoms may come and go and even seem harmless. But why live with chronic pain if you don't have to? Your dentist can help you put an end to the grind.
Patients diagnosed with TMJ share some habits. Many sufferers are grinding teeth while sleeping, awake or both, resulting in chronic headaches, dull earaches or jaw pain. A "clicking" or "popping" sound in the jaw can also be common. In worse-case scenarios, jaw lock was the result of TMJ disorder. Some people may experience swelling on the side of the face or pain affecting their neck, back and/or shoulders. Over time, TMJ can also cause dizziness and vision problems.
You can get some TMJ relief at home by doing gentle jaw exercises or applying cold or hot compresses during the day or at night. But your best bet for long-term relief is to see your dentist for help.
Think you're experiencing TMJ? You'll find the answer in the dental chair. A dental exam will eliminate non-TMJ-related causes of your pain symptoms, such as toothache, sinus issues and periodontal disease. Your dentist may then take X-rays or order an MRI to look at the temporomandibular joints themselves to spot damage.
There are a wide range of treatment options if you are diagnosed with TMJ — everything from physical therapy to surgery. One of the most popular is to be fitted with a custom-made mouthguard to halt the wear-and-tear of stress-related teeth grinding. Many patients find this a highly effective way to manage their TMJ.

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